It began with Celie. Writing letters to God. Under the strong instruction from her father never to tell anyone but God about his abuse, that is who Celie turns to.
This book is written in the form of correspondence, an exchange of letters that as often as not doesn't end up being read by the intended readers for most of a lifetime.
There is abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse, pain that no one should have to go through. They go through it. Celie is a strong enough person to realise that her father might not stop with her, and feels protective of her younger sister.
'Sometime he still be looking at Nettie, but I always git in his light. Now I tell her to marry Mr. _____. I don't tell her why. I say Marry him, Nettie, an try to have one good year out your life. After that, I know she be big.'
Celie delivered children of her father, children who were cast away, presumably dead (although Celie has the intuition to know better).
Celie put up with separation from loved ones, and a loveless, unfaithful marriage, playing second-fiddle to a more flamboyant mistress, Shug Avery. And Celie was raised not to know she deserved better.
She deserved better.
Shug Avery ironically was one who helped teach her that. There was a friendship beyond words that developed, a realisation of humanity and caring beyond the abuses of the world; Shug was neglected by her father, a pain that cut her almost as deep as Celie's pain.
But Celie found out something. Alphonso, her Pa, wasn't her Pa--he was a step. The children weren't to be shunned. The worst sin was mitigated just a bit.
And Celie and Nettie found out more. The land and house belonged to them, not to 'Pa', but rather their real daddy, who left it to them and their mother.
This is a painful story. It is a hopeful story. The courage of the women against family and societal tyranny is strong, but the courage against their own fears and shortcomings is even stronger.
Now, you may be asking, what right does a white man have in reviewing this kind of book? White people are very peripheral in the story, never central, never figuring more than just side characters, and not very human ones at that. I review this book in the hopes that it will be more widely read by those of every colour, as it gives insight into a different side of the human condition that is so far beyond my experience that, without this book, I would never have realised such things are possible.
Such despair. Such longing. Such courage. Such victory.
God is present even in the pain, even in the absence, and Celie resists (much more than I would, or indeed do in less severe circumstances) to judge God. She may be angry at times, but always faithful in her own way.
She believes in her family, even when it isn't deserved. She believes in herself in the end, when it is needed.
The Color Purple -- what does that mean? This is the symbol of God. The royal colour, the sign that all can see, that God is present and has a plan for beauty. This story is beautiful, even in its darkest moments.
'Well, us talk and talk bout God, but I'm still adrift. Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?). Not the little wildflowers. Nothing.'
Celie learns to see. Learns to love. Even to forgive a little. She finds the love of God in her family.
I am richer for having read this story. I think everyone would be.